The Rowing Machine: King of Cardio Equipment

It is of the utmost importance to any exercise-oriented individual that an adequate amount of cardiovascular exercise is completed regularly. Whether you are a bodybuilder with 22″ arms or simply a lean yoga enthusiast, the rule applies across all levels. Without a properly trained heart and lungs, your body misses out on a whole slew of health benefits and a decreased risk of heart problems; not to mention creating a disproportionate distribution of vitality within your body. Sure, your biceps have veins thicker than a garden hose, but what about what’s on the inside?

A dedicated gym goer may look at his/her six pack and scoff, “Cardio? My aerobic-free training has me leaner than ever and sweating it up on the Stairmaster for an hour isn’t my idea of a worthwhile workout.” OK, valid point, but a high performance vehicle is for nothing if the goods under the hood are garbage. Moreover, if you pack on muscle yet refrain to train your cardiovascular system, your physicality will resemble a hulking Toyota Tundra with the dinky engine of a Honda Civic. Struggling.

So, why rowing; better yet, why the rowing machine? Well, considering rivers that weave through your neighborhood with adequate boat houses are scarce, the rowing machine is the best substitute to mimic the movement and reap the rewards of such activity. Better yet, you never have to worry about bad weather, and even better than that, a great cardio workout can be accomplished in a fraction of the time that one may be looking at when getting on board an elliptical or treadmill.

The majority of people are under the assumption that rowing is an upper body intensive movement. Although there is some truth to that statement, the driving force in a successful rowing motion is derived from the lower body, where the body’s powerful leg muscles are able to sustain prolonged exertions that only they can deliver.

Need more reasons to try the rowing machine? How about the fact that the word impact can’t even be found in the same sentence as rowing machine, unless the word ‘low’ is front of it. Unlike running, which places unnecessary stress and trauma on the knees and ankles,  rowing favors a far more fluid, floating sense of power and work. As your body moves back and forth over the rolling seat, your joints praise you as they are gently coerced into the flexion and extension of various limbs.

Still need more reasons? One of the greatest aspects of the rowing machine is that it is a cardio exercise that trains your whole musculature; not just your lower body, as many machines do. When stepping away on the Stairstepper, one can feel the sole distribution of strain compiling itself on your legs, while the upper body remains slack and in complete boredom. The rowing machine ties the two sides together, with the legs generating the massive power and force for each stroke and transferring it up the body, giving your abs, arms, shoulders, and of course, back, an awesomely toning workout.

If you have located and affirmed the presence of a rowing machine at your local health club, here is a great way to get introduced to the motion:

  1. Adjust the foot stretchers: Each machine is equipped with a platform to strap your feet into, both in socks or with shoes, and it needs to be adjusted so that the strap rests atop where the balls of your feet are, and also so that your bending motion isn’t inhibited by the strap.
  2. Set the fly wheel resistance: 10 is heavy, 1 is light – to put it simply. Personally, I like to warm up in the higher digits (7-10), and then commit to my workouts between 4 and 5, as most university programs suggest.
  3. Set the clock: The rowing machine has a great computer for tracking your workouts, but for now, simply hit ‘Just Row’, or begin pulling on the handle and the clock will start on its own.
  4. Row!

Of course, it isn’t so easy to master the rowing stroke on your first few tries, so keep in mind these pointers:

  • Always begin each stroke with lower leg perpendicular to the ground and your seat as far up as can be achieved. At this point, your should be fully outstretched and grasping the handle.
  • Legs first! When driving, press off with your glutes, quads, and calves and drive your legs down to full extension.
  • Back second! once the legs are down, lean back with a straight back and begin to transfer the speed of the fly wheel to your upper body.
  • Arms in third! Once you have achieved a slight posterior lean with your straight back, pull the handle into your nipple line with by retracting your scapulae and flexing your arms.
  • The ‘finish’, or end of the stroke goes exactly in reverse order: Arms back out, back over, then slowly move back up the slide with the legs, ready for another stroke.

Sample Warm-Up:

20 strokes arms only

20 strokes arms and back only

20 strokes half leg extension

40 strokes full leg extension (full strokes)

Sample workout: 1 x 3000M, 1 x 2000M, 1 x 1000M, 1 X 500M, 1:00 rest in between each.

As you may notice this is a descending pyramid type of workout and it is great because mentally, the workload becomes easier and easier as you pass through each interval.

Select workout, then select Interval Variable, then enter the first distance, followed by the three others; then the rest.

The first 3000M should be done at 60-80% of your VO2 max, with that intensity increasing until the last 500M goes by at an all-out effort.

That’s it for now, I hope you can look into incorporating the rowing machine into your next workout and join the thousands who swear by rowing as the King of cardio.

 

 

Want muscle? STOP the quessing game

People who engage in very repetitive tasks such as long distance running, labor or swimming show very little or no improvement in the size and strength of their muscles. Long distance events are by nature very low in intensity.

Compare a marathon runner to a 100 meter sprinter. Marathon runners who train for very long periods at a very low intensity are emaciated looking having less than normal muscle mass and carry on average 14 ? 16% body fat. Sprinters, on the other hand, who train for short periods at a high level of intensity are very muscular and have half the body fat levels than marathoners. If cardio is the key to getting lean, as many people presume, why do marathoners have a higher body fat than sprinters? The reason is, a specific stimulus is required for a specific outcome.

The specific stimulus needed to stimulate muscle and strength is high intensity training. This is a universal training principle that affects everyone without exception. This is due to the fact that we are anatomically and physiologically the same. If this were not true doctors could not perform surgery and prescribe medicine. Consequently, the stimulus needed to induce biochemical changes that build muscle and strength in humans is the same.

Intensity, when referring to training, is the percentage of physical exertion that one is capable of. Training with one hundred percent intensity is the best way, the only way, to stimulate muscular size and strength in the shortest amount of time. How does one gauge the intensity of their workouts? By taking your working sets to positive or concentric failure.

Taking a set to the point of failure, where you cannot possibly perform another rep despite your maximum effort is one of, and perhaps the most important of several factors in your success. There are many who disagree and advocate high volume training with 60%, 72%, 95%, or whatever percentage of intensity they decide is the best. Some even claim training all out, with one hundred percent intensity is not only unnecessary, but detrimental. Over the years I’ve seen so called strength coach specialists, and personal trainers with 15 letters after their last names, concoct the most ridiculous routines, using almost every percentage, that have yet to show any effectiveness in real world application.

The main problem with these bogus routines is that there are only two accurate measures of intensity. Zero, when you are at rest; and 100%, when you?re training to the point of failure. How do you measure anything less than 100% intensity? If I can do 10 repetitions to complete failure with 100 pounds on the leg extension machine, where do I go for 80% intensity? Do I perform 10 reps with 80 pounds? Or do I use 100 pounds and only perform 8 reps? Is 80% the optimum percentage, or is it 65%? There is no evidence that suggests, let alone proves, anything less than 100% effort is equally or more effective. Are you starting to see the ridiculousness and inaccuracy of such training prescriptions?

Intensity cannot be measured accurately with reps or weight. While performing a set, intensity increases exponentially with each successive rep. Performing the first 5 reps on the leg extension is not equivalent in intensity to performing the last 5 reps. Hence, 5 reps is not the equivalent of 50% intensity.

The only way to train that is completely accurate is with all out intensity to failure. This will give you a concrete view of how you?re performing. If you train with 100% intensity during every workout and you do not progress, you know you are not recovering. There will never be a question whether you are providing a strong enough stimulus for progress. However, if you follow the percentage of intensity or the percentage of max rep principles, how will you know you are training intensely enough to stimulate muscular size and strength? If you plateau, are you training too hard or too long? Do you lower the percentage or raise it? Do you need more rest, or do you need to train at a higher intensity? There is no need for this guessing game.

Your goal is to bring about the largest, most rapid outcome for your individual genetic potential. In order for this to occur, the body requires 100% intensity every working set of every exercise. This is the only truly accurate way to gauge the efficacy of your training program. Nothing less than 100% will do. The body needs a reason to adapt. Give it!

Yogilates, The Yoga Hybrid with Staying Power

Back in 1997, when Yogilates was created by certified Pilates instructor and Vinyasa yoga practitioner Jonathan Urla, no one thought this yoga hybrid would stick. After all, hybrids like disco yoga, ballet yoga, and soul yoga faded away just as quickly as they exploded onto the scene. Well, Yogilates is still standing, nearly 15 years after its inception, with a sizable number of devotees and a dedicated website selling everything from DVDs and exercise gear to eco bottles and books. It’s safe to say that this is one yoga hybrid that’s here to stay.

Yogilates combines moves from Pilates and yoga to create a challenging workout that strengthens and tones the muscles, exercises the heart, and relaxes the mind. According to the official Yogilates website, this hybrid is designed as a unique style of yoga that “integrates the core strengthening and alignment principles of Pilates with the practice of hatha yoga” – a 5,000-year old discipline. As a result, Yogilates gives practitioners “more rapid and balanced development of their bodies than when either discipline is performed separately.”

A typical Yogilates session begins on the floor. Participants prepare for practice through breath and alignment awareness, followed by a warm-up that integrates “the core strengthening and spine lengthening of Pilates matwork with hatha yoga breathwork and essential poses.”

Through a series of smooth transitions from one exercise to the next, participants eventually move from the floor and into Sun Salutations (a series of 12 yoga poses) and a Vinyasa yoga flow. As the session progresses, the poses become more and more challenging before ending with restorative poses and relaxation called Shavasana.

Yogilates has a number benefits including:

  • Combines the most effective parts of yoga and Pilates for a challenging and invigorating workout
  • Improves flexibility of the spine, posture, breathing, and alignment
  • Improves performance in all activities from sports to everyday tasks
  • Helps to develop coordination and concentration
  • Helps achieve weight loss goals
  • Relieves stress
  • Reduces risk of injury
  • Helps sharpen the mental and physical skills needed to achieve peak performance
  • Safe for all ages and exercise backgrounds
  • An additional benefit of Yogilates is it can be practiced in a studio or at home. It is possible to find Yogilates classes at a health club, but you are more likely to find quality Yogilates classes at a yoga or Pilates studio. To safely and comfortably practice Yogilates at home, you should purchase a yoga mat and comfortable exercise gear made of breathable and non-irritating fabrics. You should also make sure that you are well-hydrated before and after practicing.

    Where to Find Yogilates DVDs

    You may purchase one of three Yogilates DVDs produced by Jonathan Urla online at www.yogilates.com. You can also view or purchase other Yogilates videos by visiting Amazon.com or Youtube.

    Time equals muscle

    A highly overlooked, but very useful tool for progressive resistance training is – Tempo. I will even go one step further and call tempo an essential tool for attaining optimum results from weight training. Yes, it’s true one can attain results performing reps just like every other hack in the gym, but I’m talking about optimum results.

    If you’re going to spend the time in the gym, why not get the most out of it. The biggest reason most people who weight train don’t use tools like tempo is shear laziness. Performing a set to momentary failure, to the point where you can’t possibly get another rep is grueling. Few people have what it takes to train correctly, achieving 100% intensity. Hence, the legions of frustrated people in gyms across the US. Like any endeavor, doing your best takes hard work, focus and dedication.

    So what is tempo? Tempo goes hand in hand with “time under tension” or TUT. TUT is simply the amount of time a muscle in under tension. To develop the optimum amount of muscle in the shortest amount of time, a set should last between 20 and 60 seconds.

    Tempo is the speed of your reps. It is expressed and recorded by three or four digit numbers representing the seconds required to complete a rep. Example: 402 (four, zero, two) or 50X0 (five, zero, explosive, zero). Using the bench press, the first digit is the speed in which the weight is lowered (negative). The second digit is the amount of time one pauses once they’ve reached their chest. The third digit is the amount of time one takes to raise the weight (positive). The forth digit, if used, is the amount of time one takes before lowering the weight again. If an “X” is used, it means explosive, or as fast as possible.

    Designing Your Workouts

    Is it really necessary to count each rep in order to build strength and muscle? No. Is it necessary to lift under control and to vary your speeds to get the best most rapid gains per your genetics? Yes. When you perform an exercise under control, the muscles are truly doing the work. ?Slower?, not ?slow? speeds make the muscles work harder by eliminating momentum and bouncing. There?s nothing impressive about performing a bench press by allowing the weight to drop, bounce off your chest and then barely being able to complete the lift.

    If tempo is used properly, the target muscle group is truly performing the exercise. Tempo forces one to lift in a very controlled manner, but like any training tool it should be used as an adjunct to your weight training program.

    People are befuddled

    The question, “What’s best workout for building strength and muscle?” has been the subject of heated debates for years. My answer is always the same. There is no one workout that is the best. There is no one workout that works for all. However, there are training principles that do apply to everybody.

    Anatomically and physiologically we are identical. A bicep is a bicep and has the exact same function from person to person. An aorta is an aorta. Our anatomical structures may have different shapes and sizes, but they all function the same. This holds true for all tissues in our bodies from blood to hormones. If this weren’t true medicine could not exist. How could an anesthesiologist do his job if everybody were different?

    Therefore, in order to get bigger, stronger muscles the same stimulus is needed. That stimulus is short, intense training sessions. Why short? Because we have known for centuries the body can either train long or train hard. A perfect example is to compare distance runners to sprinters. Because of the types of training, one is emaciated looking and one is muscular. Remember you can not sprint a mile. Is it difficult to run a mile, yes? But it is essentially impossible to run a mile with 100% intensity.

    The other factor one needs to take into consideration for building bigger, stronger muscles is recovery. How much or how often can you train? Or better yet, how much “should” you train? Here is where the differences in genetics lie. Our muscles need the exact same stimulus in order to cause a chain of events that forces them to adapt by making bigger stronger muscles. However, the rate at which we are able to recover from these intense bouts is as different as the shapes and sizes of our bodies.

    So what are you to do? If you’re training using the typical muscle building routine, which is 3 or more working sets per exercise and 4 or more sessions a week, and not getting anywhere, change it. First, reduce your sets per exercise by half and only train each body part once a week. If you still don’t make gains or you plateau after a short while, reduce your sets again. Remember, if you’re training with 100% intensity and you’re not making gains, you’re not recovering.

    More is only better when it comes to sex and money.

    More is only better when it comes to sex and money

    The duration of exercise is the volume or number of sets performed. Intensity and duration have an inverse relationship. Meaning, the harder you train, the less time can be spent training. This is because we have a finite amount of fuel available to carry that level of stress. This is not a choice or an opinion; it?s fact.

    Let?s take another look at a sprinter versus a marathoner. By definition a sprint is: To move rapidly or at top speed for a brief period, as in running. The key words here are ?top speed? and ?brief?. A sprinter runs with all out effort or 100% intensity. Because of this all out effort, which is a tremendous amount of stress on the body, the duration of the movement is brief. Now it becomes clear why a 400 meter run and longer are not considered sprints. Although some do consider the 400m a sprint, runners are not running with all out 100% effort as in the 100m or 200m sprints. Point being, one can only exert themselves with 100% effort for so long.

    In the case of marathon runners, they train at a very low intensity. Because of the inverse relationship between intensity and duration, unlike sprinters, endurance athletes can train for extended periods of time. This is not to say endurance training is not difficult, I am merely pointing out the physiological fact the body can only train so hard for so long.

    This brings us to the second way most people train too much, but the most common; too many sets. Although training hard is the best way to move forward, some people are under the impression that doing more is training harder. This couldn?t be farther from the truth.

    Training all out, poses extreme demands on the body’s resources, which are governed by genetics and in limited supply. Because of this finite supply, the body will not allow you to train ?too hard? for too long, and gives clues you are reaching your limits. Once you reach failure performing a set, or run out of gas during a workout, you?re simply not able to train any harder. It doesn?t matter what you do at this point, the body is done. Performing anything more than what is optimum, will hinder your progress. Yet, at this point, most perform more sets with reduced weight or reduced intensity because of the more is better mentality. Do not get caught in this no win cycle.

    The most underated component of training programs, recovery

    We all recover from exercise at different rates. Many people who recover quickly have reached a high level of success performing a high number of sets. Many who recover slowly have also been very successful performing low numbers of sets. Because everybody is unique in their ability to adapt and recover from different programs, the number of sets needs to be individualized.

    A very important component of a training program that should be given consideration is training frequency. How often can, or more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by ones recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols.

    Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. In fact, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, usually I either reduce the workout volume or add days off. There is no reason to go to the gym if you’re not going to make progress.

    Does it make sense to keep doing the same routine if gains are not being made? Isn’t the definition of “crazy”, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. If your current program is not working, change it. The number one complaint people have is they’re not making progress or their progress has come to a halt. In both cases, the answer is more recovery time. Understanding the fact our bodies have a finite amount of recovery ability should help explain this concept.

    The following is Mike Mentzer’s explanation of overtraining and recovery. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

    In bodybuilding, the idea is to impose a training stress onto the body that will serve to induce the biochemical changes which result in muscular hypertrophy. Applying any more of the training stress (high-intensity) than is required by nature will result in the equivalent of over-dosing on a medicine; or, as we say typically in bodybuilding – overtraining.
    A person exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays at the equator in summer would not have the slightest concern whether the intensity of the sunlight stress is high enough to disturb the physiology sufficiently to induce an adaptive response, i.e., the buildup of a suntan. His only concern, his overriding consideration, would be to properly regulate the volume (or duration) and frequency of exposure time so as not to overdose on the stress/stimulus; and, thereby, incur a sunburn or, in extreme cases, death. A person seeking to develop a suntan at the equator, or wherever the intensity of the sunlight is high has no concern that he will develop a suntan; but only if he doesn’t overexpose. (Note that bodybuilding science is largely based on the medical discipline of stress physiology. Also, that the end result of the healing of a sunburn is not a suntan, just as the end result of the healing of overtraining is not greater strength or added muscle.)
    As the stresses grow progressively greater, they will eventually reach a critical point such that they constitute overtraining. The first symptom will be a slow down in progress; and if the individual continues with the same volume and frequency protocol, the stresses will continue to increase until there is a complete cessation of progress, typically referred to as a “sticking point.” One need not ever experience a slow down in progress, let alone a sticking point, if he bears in mind all the while that as the weights grow progressively greater so do the stresses; and he must do certain specific things to compensate for them.

    MikeMentzer.com

    Training Frequency

    How often can, or more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by ones recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols. It never ceases to amaze me how many people train for months and years experiencing little or no success, and never consider the fact they may be doing too much.

    Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. In fact, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, usually I either reduce the workout volume or add days off. There is no reason in going to the gym if you’re not going to make progress. In every workout, if you have fully recovered, and you come ready to work, you should make progress, which is gauged by your strength.

    How can anyone get stronger every workout? One can only bench press so much. Eventually, you have to hit a plateau. This is true. If one stays with the same exercises, the same number of reps and the same number of sets, progress may eventually stop. If the proper changes aren’t made at the right time, eventually the body adapts to the stimulus. And this is where the “art” of program design comes to play.

    It’s easy to follow a workout. The real challenge is assuring the stimulus is sufficient and more importantly, you recovery from workout to workout so that progress continues over a long period of time. Sometimes this entails having the discipline to deviate from something that is not working. If you’re not making progrss, and you’re training with all out intensity, try taking an extra day off.

    Training Frequency

    How often can, or much more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by ones recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols. It never ceases to amaze me, how many people train for months and years experiencing little or no success, and never consider the fact they maybe doing too much.

    You can never train too hard, but you can train too much. Training ?too much? can actually be described in two ways. The first and probably the most common way, is training too often. If you are training with 100% intensity, you should not be able to train a body part any more frequently than once every 6-8 days. Everyone should realize that if you are still feeling it from the previous workout of the same body part, then it is best to take a few more days of rest. I have actually heard people say that they train even if they are sore because it is harder on the muscles. True, it is harder on the muscles, but not in a positive way. Ask yourself, ?Where is the logic in training a muscle before it is recovered?? The muscle hasn?t had a chance to adapt to a previous training session and you tear it down with another. Training may stimulate your muscles to grow, but they don’t grow during training. Proper nutrition and enough rest between sessions is what facilitates recovery and allows the muscles to grow. If you train before the muscle is recovered, you not only slow or put a halt to your progress, you increase your risk of injury.

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